Who set the mysterious fire that burned down much of New York City shortly after the British took the city during the Revolutionary War?
New York City, the strategic center of the Revolutionary War, was the most important place in North America in 1776. That summer, an unruly rebel army under George Washington repeatedly threatened to burn the city rather than let the British take it. Shortly after the Crown’s forces took New York City, much of it mysteriously burned to the ground.
This is the first book to fully explore the Great Fire of 1776 and why its origins remained a mystery even after the British investigated it in 1776 and 1783. Uncovering stories of espionage, terror, and radicalism, Benjamin L. Carp paints a vivid picture of the chaos, passions, and unresolved tragedies that define a historical moment we usually associate with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
About the Author
Benjamin L. Carp is professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America and Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution. He lives in New York City.
“An elegant, reader-friendly example of assiduously researched, carefully written American history that feels definitive.”—Robert G. Kaiser, Washington Post
“[Carp] cogently lays out his findings. Revolutionaries almost certainly set New York aflame intentionally, Carp argues, and they quite possibly acted on instructions. Sifting through the evidence, he asks a disturbing question: Did George Washington order New York to be burned to the ground?”—Daniel Immerwahr, The Atlantic
“Meticulously researched and richly documented, this is an intriguing look at a little-known aspect of the Revolutionary War.”—Publishers Weekly
“Carp’s work exhibits the creativity and fortitude to take on established historical interpretations to discern new understandings of important historical events and their causes.”—Gene Procknow, Journal of the American Revolution
“The Great New York Fire of 1776 makes us rethink many of our assumptions about the American Revolution and New York City’s role in it. . . . A valuable lesson to both the city and the nation as a whole.”—Donald F. Johnson, Gotham (blog)
“In this fast-moving, deeply researched, and broad-ranging account, Carp concentrates on an often-overlooked event . . . to reveal the charred birth of the American republic: a period when neighbors became firebrands, incendiary nights gave way to blinding, war-riddled days, and everyone involved got their hands sooty. . . . A deeply human account.”—Daniella McCahey, H-Net
“An essential read for anyone interested in the history of New York City and in the Revolutionary War.”—New York Military Affairs Symposium
“A tour de force of historical detective work that will be of as much interest to military historians as it will be to Revolutionary War enthusiasts.”—T. Cole Jones, Journal of Military History
“Benjamin Carp’s impressive new study represents a pathbreaking investigation of the role of fire in the American Revolution. Full of astonishing twists and turns, this beautifully crafted book will definitely fascinate and inform. . . . Highly recommended!”—James Kirby Martin, author of Insurrection
“Benjamin Carp’s provocative, absorbing, and definitive account of this crucial but forgotten episode in the Revolution is a clarion call for a clear-eyed and inclusive approach to American history.”—Barnet Schecter, author of The Battle for New York
“Benjamin Carp revels in the haziness of one of the more obscure but perhaps for that reason more telling episodes of the Revolution. He makes a powerful case for what war must have been like in 1776: blazing hot, lethal, and utterly bewildering.”—Russell Shorto, author of Revolution Song
“An American Revolution and New York story in one, bringing to life the mayhem of the early War of Independence, assessing causes and effects of a disaster that wiped out lower Manhattan, and ultimately raising provocative questions about the nature of historical memory.”—William Hogeland, author of Autumn of the Black Snake
“Benjamin Carp’s thorough investigation of the dramatic New York City fire in 1776 and its consequences, for the city’s people and the Revolutionary cause, illuminates old mysteries in fluent, spellbinding prose.”—Richard D. Brown, author of Self-Evident Truths